Maria Sharapova Wild Card Overshadows US Open Build-Up

Of all the Grand Slams, the US Open has always been the one to buck a trend, for better or worse. Introducing equal pay in 1973 was one of their better choices, as was the construction of floodlights to enable night play at a Grand Slam for the first time. The US Open’s decision to grant Maria Sharapova a main draw wildcard is not one of their better ones.

After being snubbed by Roland Garros and Wimbledon (although this was never confirmed due to her injury) Maria Sharapova has been awarded a wild card into the US Open. For the first time since the 2016 Australian Open she is back in a Grand Slam main draw.

“A wildcard was provided to a past US champion”

A USTA spokesperson said of the decision, “her suspension under the terms of the tennis anti-doping programme was completed and therefore was not one of the factors weighed in our wildcard selection process,” he said.

“Consistent with past practice, a wildcard was provided to a past US champion who needed the wildcard for entry into the main draw.

“Additionally Sharapova has volunteered to speak to young tennis players at the USTA national campus about the importance of the tennis anti-doping programme and the personal responsibility each player has to comply with the programme’s requirements.”

It is, in all honesty, a baffling decision by the US Open. The tone set by the French Open and Wimbledon meant the US Open had a free pass. They could easily avoid controversy by following the lead of the other Slams. No one, other than Sharapova’s fans, would have batted an eyelid if she had been denied another wild card.Money over morals

Instead they have opted to take the commercial route and give Sharapova a chance. To an extent it makes sense. All the arguments for why Maria Sharpova should have got a wildcard to Roland Garros translate to the US Open. She is a former champion and a seat-filler. She has served her time. Lastly, she provides constant stories for the media to promote the tournament. From a commercial standpoint it makes total sense.

From a moral standpoint though it is a big blow to the US Open’s reputation. Following the fallout to Justin Gatlin’s party-spoiling moment at the 2017 World Athletics Championships, you would think giving a platform to a player who has served a lengthy drugs ban would be the last thing the US Open would want to do.

The USTA said that it did not consider Maria Sharapova’s drug ban in it’s wild card process. What a terrible, terrible message to send out. This is telling everyone, “it does not matter if you serve a drugs ban, as long as you are a good player we will let you come back”.

Has Maria Sharapova denied a youngster a wild card opportunity?

There is the second argument that her inclusion denies a young, promising player a chance in the main draw. That is slightly undone by the failure of the USTA to give a wild card to high-flying 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, deciding instead to focus on their own talent. An understandable but questionable decision.

It is inevitable that her addition to the roster will also see other players bombarded with repetitive questions about her inclusion. Not only are these questions supremely dull but they leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans during the opening days.

Sadly, Maria Sharapova’s wild card will dominate discussion in the opening few days. Whichever way you look, her name will be on everybody’s lips. That might be exactly what the US Open wants, but for most tennis fans it is a tedious way to start a tournament.

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